7 ways highly disciplined people structure their daily routines

What’s the secret to success? 

Is it waking up at 4 am? Plunging into pools of ice and shivering in them until your toes turn blue? Eating fish and veggies for every meal for 25 years? 

Sometimes the routines of the hyper-disciplined sound so unappealing you’d rather crawl into a hole and live out your life as an unsuccessful piece of moss. 

(Hello, Victoria Beckham, who supposedly has actually existed off fish and vegetables for a quarter of a century.)

But fear not!  

Turns out, the real secret to discipline isn’t just about willpower or rising before the birds have even opened their bleary eyes. 

It’s about understanding your own rhythms, optimizing your environment, and crafting a routine that works for you.

So, let’s dive into the 7 surprising strategies that highly disciplined people use to structure their days (and how you can steal their secrets to level up your own life).

1) “Good doggy! Have a treat!”

I’m not comparing you to a dog, but there is a great deal of merit in positive reinforcement. Too much to be overlooked, in fact.

But just in the same way that Fido gets a tasty snack for performing a trick or having his nails trimmed, you, too can reward yourself for the less-than-pleasant tasks out there.

Termed “temptation bundling”, this technique involves a sense of positive reinforcement as you begin to associate an undesirable action or behavior with a pleasurable one.

For example, you might detest walking on the treadmill at the gym… but you’ll hate it a lot less if you allow yourself to watch your favorite Netflix show for that hour.

Or, you might treat yourself to your favorite doughy delicious pastry once a week. But only if you finish all your required studying.

The association between the dreaded and the desired transforms chores from obligations into something you actually end up looking forward to.

(There’s almost nothing I will not do for my favorite pastry, so you’ll be surprised how much easier this makes grueling tasks seem!)

2) 2-minutes in heaven (or hell)

If not adequately and frequently addressed, you might find that your to-do tasks pile up like nobody’s business. 

And if you fail to keep gradually chipping away (as we explore in point 5), you’ll soon find yourself overwhelmed by a momentous list of tasks vying for your attention.

The “two-minute rule” is a secret weapon highly disciplined individuals savor – and you can too!  

It’s very simple: If something takes two minutes or less, do it immediately. 

Reply to that email, put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher, water the plants. (They’re practically screaming for some water!)

This simple rule, popularized by productivity enthusiast David Allen, prevents small tasks from piling up and becoming insurmountable. 

In his words, “If an action will take less than two minutes, it should be done at the moment it’s defined.”

This approach means you’re constantly assembling quick wins, creating a sense of momentum, accomplishment and giving yourself a hit of dopamine with each completion.

3) You are one step closer everyday…

To achieving your dreams, your goals, your aspirations.

You might be able to dream big, but I think we can all agree that those big dreams don’t suddenly manifest themselves overnight (unless you get very lucky in the lottery.)

Highly disciplined people know this better than anyone, and it’s for this reason that they break big tasks down into smaller, manageable chunks

Bite-sized pieces, if you will! 

This “micro-progress” approach makes daunting projects feel far less overwhelming and provides a sense of accomplishment along the way.

Because there are few things more satisfying than ticking achievements off your list, even if they’re as small as ‘Download new software to begin project’, or ‘Sign up to art classes.’

These might seem like teensy tiny accomplishments, but they’re still better than nothing.

(As long as you actually attend that class you signed up for!)

4) Early bird or night owl?

We all have highs and lows throughout the day. 

Maybe you work best first thing, as you’re sipping your morning coffee, and you know you hit a slump come 2 pm.

Or, your creativity glistens and glows…but only between 2 am and 4 am.

It’s how you understand and harness your unique ebb and flow of energy that defines how productive you are.

Hence why highly disciplined people understand this and structure their schedules accordingly. 

They tackle their most demanding tasks when their energy is high, and save less mentally taxing activities for when their focus is waning.

This approach is backed by research on ultradian rhythms, our natural 90-minute cycles of energy and rest.

And whilst this approach isn’t always possible (you might work late hours when really your body needs early nights), try to align your tasks with your natural rhythms and listen to your body.

This way you can optimize productivity and avoid burnout.

5) “No Zero Days” 

Before we start, this one isn’t to be confused with the “No Days Off” approach which is in reality a progress killer (both in the professional and fitness spheres.)

“No Zero Days” doesn’t mean working 7 days a week, or working out everyday, come rain, shine, food poisoning or pneumonia.  

It doesn’t mean you have to go full throttle every day either, but rather means taking baby steps and allocating a small portion of each day towards something beneficial to you.

No matter how small nor what the action, doing a little everyday means you inch further towards your goals. 

Even on lazy Sundays where you barely leave the sofa, you might finish your night with some gratitude affirmations, or reading 10 pages of a book before bed. 

Maybe you’ll write a paragraph to flex your creative writing skills, or stretch for 15 minutes.

All of these actions are fairly low effort but extremely high reward when exercised regularly. 

These small-but-mighty actions add up to create a powerful sense of momentum, preventing you from slipping into complete sloth-like limbo.

(Which is also to be forgiving – I know I enjoy my monthly allocated day rotting in bed!)

6) Habit stacking

One of my personal favorites, this nifty technique means combining one helpful habit with another, to create an omega-habit.

I’ve been trying to incorporate stomach vacuums into my daily routine for years, with little to no success. 

(For those who don’t know what this is, it’s a core exercise whereby you draw in your abdominal muscles while continuously breathing, essentially targeting your deepest abdominal muscle called your transversus abdominis.)

But there was one issue: I kept forgetting to do them. 

One day, someone suggested I perform these whilst brushing my teeth, and suddenly, remembering to do them daily wasn’t so hard. 

I brush my teeth everyday (twice a day, in fact!) and find my mind wandering all over the bathroom. Now, I have a second purpose, I get my stomach vacuums done, and my teeth end up pearly and smooth.

Other examples might include journaling for 5 minutes whilst you sip your morning coffee, or listening to your pick-me-up alarm anthem while making your bed.

Habit stacking builds upon your existing routines and makes new habits even easier to adopt and stick to.  

It’s the perfect way to enhance positive behaviors, and highly disciplined individuals are often sticklers for it.

7) Happy space, happy mind

Imagine you’re sitting down at your desk, ready to start whittling away at your to-do list, before you’re rudely interrupted…

By the stench of last night’s takeout, perched rudely to your left.

To your right, sits a colossal mound of the laundry you’ve been blissfully ignoring for the past week.

Worst of all is the blaring music coming from your neighbor’s apartment, who seems to think heavy metal is best played before 8 am.

Your environment plays a crucial role in shaping your behavior.  

Highly disciplined people understand the impact that their environment plays in shaping their behavior and allowing them to enter their flow state (the ideal and most focused state for working).

Thus, they design their surroundings to support their goals.

Now, some distractions (such as the noisy neighbor and his grating music taste) cannot be avoided, in which case changing up your work space is sometimes necessary.

But for the most part, removing distractions, creating a tidy and organized workspace, and surrounding yourself with cues that remind you of your priorities does wonders for the mind.  

Your own perfect discipline recipe

The most effective routines are the ones that work for you. The cocktail of habits and models that works for one person will likely not work for another, so experiment, experiment, experiment.

Try out different strategies, find what resonates, and don’t be afraid to break the mold.

The key is to approach discipline not as a rigid set of rules you have to follow (there is no rulebook!)

Instead, see these useful habits as suggestions and building blocks for personal growth. 

By understanding the science behind habits and the surprising strategies of the ultra-disciplined, you too can create a unique routine that empowers you to achieve your goals – one small victory at a time.

Let’s get experimenting!

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